James Macfarlane chats to Kim Kalish about the ultiimate exit – death!
I bought $1000 worth of Billy Joel songs in 30 minutes! That’s NUTS.
Hi Kim! A question I’m asking more since the pandemic: how are you?
I’m okay, thank you so much for asking. The pandemic was tough for me. I thrive on being around people so to be cut off so wildly affected me greatly. I felt really lost. Coming out of it now, it has definitely focused me on what and how I want to connect with people. This is cheesy but connection is key to life and I think I took it for granted before the pandemic. So short answer: I’m doing okay.
So, this is the first show you’ve brought to the Edinburgh Fringe. How are you liking Edinburgh so far and what made you think it’s time to bring your show here?
Yes! I spent one very drunken Hogmanay here many years ago so I’m excited to really get to see the city this time and not be hungover. I’m loving it so far. I keep wandering off from places and just getting lost. I intend to find every nook and cranny of this delightful place. Speaking of which, I need recs. Tell me where to go for the best food, the best offbeat stores. This gal needs some recs!
Tell us a bit about you and your background for those who might not be familiar with your work.
I’ve been in the comedy scene in one form or another for 15 years. I started at Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York City doing improv around the country with them. I’ve performed sketches on Conan a dozen times and have also worked with College Humour. But my love is storytelling. People have viewed my stories over 30 million times online. I regularly participate in The Moth Story Slams (and have been honoured to win a few), I’ve gotten accolades at the LA Storytelling Fest, and regularly contributed to the storytelling powerhouse, Soul Pancake. My work has also been featured on many different websites including The Huffington Post, Cheek, and Indiewire, among other publications. Basically, pick a way to make people laugh and I’m lucky enough to get to do it.
Your show is called “The Funny Thing About Death”. I love the title! What can an audience expect from it?
Everything in this show is true–nothing has been changed or exaggerated for it. We’re going to talk about what grief really looks like because grief is one of the only experiences that every single human on Earth will experience and yet we don’t really talk about it. We all act like it’s this classy Shakespearean moment but it’s not Shakespeare; it’s Animal Planet. Grief is bonkers. I mean, I bought $1000 worth of Billy Joel songs in 30 minutes! That’s NUTS. But that’s what my grief looked like in that one moment. You’ll hear about all of it–every decision I made while trying to grieve the love of my life. You’re going to laugh with me, then cry with me, then laugh again because we’re in this together.
In terms of grief and comedy, I feel that, although on opposite ends of the emotional scale, they are very closely linked, aesthetically. How did you find this connection of emotion in the writing process? Was it a cathartic process?
The way I process anything in life is through humour so it made sense for me to work through all these complicated emotions through a good belly chuckle. To be honest, when I sat down to write the show–I couldn’t. It felt too rigid, too structured. So I decided to approach it as a stand up or storytelling set. I wrote down the bullet points and then I walked around talking to myself, finding my own way through the story. And man did it bring up a lot of emotions! Some of them were old friends–the sadness, the guilt, the anger that a man’s life was cut short at just 23 years old. But there is a new set of emotions that have come into my life now because of the writing–the life-affirming joy, the pride in knowing that I get to share a bit of him with you–that the hope that comes from a giggle and I’m so grateful for those new emotional friends.
You’ve previewed the show in Los Angeles, to critical acclaim – congratulations! Have you had any interesting feedback from audience members who can relate to some of the material?
This has honestly been my favourite part of doing the show. When I went out to greet the audience, there were so many tears. People told me not just about loved ones they lost but also about the grief of losing that job they really wanted or the grief of ending a marriage. I had one friend text me that she loved the show but couldn’t stay because she had to go home to work through some big feelings. We also had a grief doula (someone who works as a guide for families experiencing grief) come and she shared that the show works through grief in a healthy way–that joy and silliness and laughter can all be present while grieving. It’s two sides of the same coin–it’s all love.
A question I’ve been asking other acts this year is about digital work. You mentioned earlier that you’ve amassed over 30 million views for your work online – an amazing achievement! How important do you feel social media is to the careers of comedians and storytellers?
Social media is both my best friend and the bane of my career. I owe a lot to social media–people found my stories there and shared them and from that, I’ve gotten other jobs and gotten to make even more people laugh and I’m grateful for that. It’s also time consuming and can feel like an obligatory burden. Here’s my advice: follow the joy. Connect with people, share your comedy, try out new things, see what works, what doesn’t. But the minute it’s not joyful anymore, walk away, take a break for a while.
Finally, do you have any acts that you’ve got your eye on this year that you’d recommend for our readers?
Yes! I got to see Amie Enriquez’s Lightweight in Los Angeles and it knocked my socks off. I also can’t wait to see Sleepover and Jeena Bloom’s Homecoming Queen.